Day One take-aways from Built Environment Networking’s Ox-Cam Arc Conference

Bedford OxCamArc
Planning Director Russell Gray attended Day One of the Built Environment Networking’s Oxford-Cambridge Arc Conference. 

The feeling in the room was clear from the start – a real concern of political inertia at the national level; that the Government is no longer as committed to the Arc, with the lack of any mention in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review evidence of this.

Pete Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council, explained that while there may be a perception that supporting a prosperous area such as the Arc runs counter to the ‘levelling up’ agenda, in order to ‘level up’ the whole country, the Government should be making the most of the Arc’s potential. The region is, through its innovation, applied research and capabilities in key themes such as Life Sciences, Space, Energy and Sustainable Aviation, in fact competing on a global stage, and not simply with other regions of the UK such as the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

The speakers all recognised that action is needed and the Government needs to be fully committed, with agreement that the Spatial Framework remains a fundamental component to keep on track. Pete Marland went further, calling for a national coalition to deliver the Arc in order to take national politics out of it.

While the 1 million homes ‘sound bite’ of the National Infrastructure Strategy of 2018 remains an unhelpful distraction and a focus for NIMBYs, (with Stop the Arc actively canvassing visitors outside the event), the afternoon session on the Housing Crisis saw Joe Marshall of Catalyst Housing Group suggesting that housing should actually be treated as infrastructure. Greg Hill of Hill Group also raised the question that if the Arc Spatial Framework does not distribute housing numbers across the area, then how will the targets be achieved.

In terms of solutions, the key point was the need to secure more buy in from communities across the region.  Sarah Greenwoods of Homes England suggested that given the international draw of the Arc, hailed earlier this year by Government as having the potential to be a “science and innovation super power”, there should be the potential to do something different and more high end in respect of new developments. The infrastructure needs to come first in the way it has in Milton Keynes, capitalising on the knowledge in the Arc to design at the highest level and embrace the latest green technologies. Ultimately we need to be more imaginative in the way that we develop.